Chil­dren don’t judge Santa by his color; adults should do the same

Orlando Sentinel - - OPINION -

COM­MEN­TARY shouldn’t mat­ter what color Santa is,” LaTanya Newell told WESH. Newell is the event man­ager for the city’s Cham­ber of Com­merce and the per­son who played the role of Mrs. Claus.

“Santa rep­re­sents joy,” she said. Be­fore we pro­ceed, let’s pause for the cause and rec­og­nize Newell said Santa’s color mat­ter, not that he is

of color.

The fact re­mains Newell and her boyfriend, who played Santa, were the first black cou­ple pre­sented as Santa and Mrs. Claus in the 40-year his­tory of the event. To put that in per­spec­tive, the city of St. Cloud saw a black pres­i­dent voted in to run the coun­try be­fore the city in­tro­duced a black Santa Claus.

I’m not try­ing to beat up St. Cloud here. Good for them for hav­ing a black woman in a lead­er­ship role to open the door.

But I’m bet­ting a lot of other cities in Amer­ica con­sis­tently ne­glect the chance to broaden Santa’s brand to a di­verse au­di­ence.

Mall of Amer­ica in Min­nesota, the largest mall in the coun­try, made na­tional head­lines af­ter hir­ing its first black Santa in 2016. Some of the feed­back was so vile and racist that the Min­neapo­lis Star Tri­bune dis­abled com­ment on its news story be­cause Christmas “tra­di­tion­al­ists” couldn’t em­brace an ex­panded rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Santa.

And does any­one re­mem­ber the in­cred­u­lous fit former Fox News host Megyn Kelly threw when jour­nal­ist Aisha Har­ris sug­gested we re­brand Santa as a pen­guin, like the Easter bunny con­cept? Kelly and a panel of “ex­perts” in­sisted Santa “is just white” as if any of this is a ver­i­fi­able fact. This ridicu­lous thought was re­peated by Ann Coul­ter, who laughed at the no­tion that Santa could be any­thing other than white in an 2013 in­ter­view with Piers Mor­gan.

I re­mem­ber watch­ing this na­tional di­a­logue un­fold as I pre­pared to cel­e­brate my first Christmas as a new mom. That was when it dawned on me that I couldn’t re­call a sin­gle me­mory grow­ing up with a Santa that had skin like mine.

So I made it a point to seek out a black Santa that year for my daugh­ter be­cause why shouldn’t she see a Santa that is brown or peach or an ar­ray of col­ors? For good­ness sake, the man has a fly­ing rein­deer with a nose that glows in the dark. Any­thing is pos­si­ble.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tion mat­ters. Even when we’re talk­ing about some­thing as seem­ingly triv­ial as Santa.

Kids who grow up only see­ing and believ­ing in white Santa Clauses can turn into adults who only val­i­date white Santa Clauses. This, in turn, cre­ates tragic adults who lack the abil­ity to imag­ine a world be­yond what they see.

Newell is ab­so­lutely right in re­mind­ing us all that Santa is a ves­sel used to in­spire joy and be­lief in good things.

In an in­creas­ingly cyn­i­cal world, isn’t that the mes­sage we want our chil­dren to em­brace? Of course, this mes­sage can come from a white Santa too. But let’s be mind­ful that chil­dren of color should be able to nor­mal­ize the ex­pe­ri­ence of see­ing a black or Latino or Asian Santa in a pa­rade or in a mall, too.

We are just as mag­i­cal. Em­brac­ing — not dis­miss­ing, de­mean­ing or ig­nor­ing our dif­fer­ences — cel­e­brates the idea that we all be­long.

This whole St. Cloud sit­u­a­tion — for which com­mu­nity mem­bers tri­umphantly drowned out the ig­no­rant voices — made me won­der how my 6-year-old child per­ceives Santa.

So I asked her, what does Santa look like?

Her re­sponse; Santa has a white beard, he has a red suit, he wears a black belt, he has black shoes and he has a red hat with a white fuzzy ball on the end. Any­thing else, I asked?

That’s it.

And that’s where we left the con­ver­sa­tion.

Santa is black, he’s white and, of course, red all over.


A young boy poses with Langston Pat­ter­son, dressed as Santa, at the Bald­win Hills Cren­shaw Plaza in Los An­ge­les this month.

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